things to do new forest
Europe,  UK

7 great things to do in the New Forest

The New Forest, Hampshire is one of my two favourite places to visit in the UK (the other being Brighton!). It really is a wonderful place for a UK getaway, whether that’s a week-long break or a weekend trip. Made up of a mix of pastureland, heath and forest, it’s a truly beautiful place to explore, as you visit the towns and villages dotted throughout the boundaries of the national park.

Appointed a royal forest by William I, it was an area used by nobility and royalty to host hunts, although those that lived there known as ‘commoners’ were given special rights including permission for their animals to freely graze the land. Still in place today, this is something that makes the New Forest such a unique place, as its free roaming ponies can be seen throughout the area and often can be found wandering along the towns’ and villages’ high streets!

Whatever the weather or time of year, the New Forest has a lot to offer,  from country walks and animal parks through to indoor family attractions and historical sites. Here are seven of my favourite things to do in the New Forest whenever I visit.

Things to do in the New Forest

Following the Tall Trees Trail in the New Forest.
Following the Tall Trees Trail in the New Forest.

1 – Get back to nature

One of the most beautiful places in the UK, I think the biggest reason to visit the New Forest is to put on your walking boots and go exploring. Nothing beats breathing in that fresh country air as you take a walk over fields and heaths or wander through woodland. I’m also prone to a bad case of pony spotting whenever I come to the New Forest, and it’s wonderful how close you can get to these beautiful creatures when you’re out and about.

Can you stroke and feed the New Forest ponies?

There are around 3,000 New Forest ponies roaming freely in the area, and although you’re likely to have an encounter with them during your stay, remember that these guys are not tame so don’t trying to stroke or feed them! Also worth noting is that the animals of the New Forest have right of way on the roads and they’re often found wandering along the country lanes or grazing on roadside hedges, so always drive slowly and keep alert.

new forest pony
Isn’t she beautiful!

Accessible walking trails

Although it’s a walker’s heaven don’t think you have to be super fit to get back to nature here. There are many different kinds of walks available in the New Forest: long, short, flat, hilly and some also accessible to wheelchair users, which was really good to see. Simply do some research beforehand to find a walk that suits you.

As I can have issues with pain in my legs I chose the Tall Trees trail – a short, flat walk, scattered with benches where I could rest if needed. Not only was it a really enjoyable walk through the woods, it was also very interesting, with information points on the forest’s tallest trees and it even takes you past a crater formed by a bomb that fell during World War II!

The New Forest National Park Authority has an area of its website dedicated to information on over 80 walks you can take in the area, and even has route cards you can print out, so that’s a great place to start.

The Tall Trees Trail.
The Tall Trees Trail.
Discovering a World War II bomb crater during our walk in the New Forest!
Discovering a World War II bomb crater during our walk in the New Forest!

2 – Explore Buckler’s Hard

Buckler’s Hard is an 18th-century village turned museum. Found on the banks of Beaulieu River, it is where Nelson’s fleet was built.

Your journey starts in a modern museum that sets the story, with information on the village’s Montagu family, the ships built and used in the Battle of Trafalgar, and the sad story of the SS Persia, which was sunk by a German U-boat during WW1. From here you’re free to roam the village, look around the shipwright’s cottage and the village chapel and discover what life was like for villagers back in that time.

I found my time at Buckler’s Hard fascinating as it shares stories not just of the big events that happened, but of the local people’s (often mis-) adventures, loves and losses. Visiting in January, I found the place very quiet, which gave us a great opportunity to find out more from the staff who were more than happy to share their knowledge with us.

 Buckler's Hard maritime village.
Looking down onto Buckler’s Hard.
Entering the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey
Entering the grounds of Beaulieu Abbey
Exploring the beautiful cloisters of Beaulieu Abbey.
Exploring the beautiful cloisters of Beaulieu Abbey.

3 – Spend a day at Beaulieu

There’s so much to do at Beaulieu that it’s easy to spend a full day here exploring all its attractions! Often known as the National Motor Museum and also renowned for its World of Top Gear exhibition. If you’re not a car enthusiast don’t let that put you off as your entry ticket also gives you access to Beaulieu Abbey, Palace House, beautiful grounds and gardens and the secret army exhibition.

A lover of history, my highlights were the Abbey and Palace House; which was brought to life by the secret army exhibition that told the tale of Beaulieu being used as secret training establishment for special agents of the Special Operations Executive during World War Two. There were some amazing stories shared and fun anecdotes – for example recruiters were challenged with breaking into Palace House and proof of their success can be found on the large dining room table onto which they naughtily scratched their initials.

Outside Palace House, Beaulieu
Outside Palace House.
Beaulieu tour guide
Our tour guide!
Classic comfort in Palace House, Beaulieu
Classic comfort in Palace House.
dining table palace house beaulieu
‘That’ dining table.
Evidence of the success of those sneaky spies - beaulieu
Evidence of the success of those sneaky spies!

4 – Visit the towns of the New Forest

The New Forest is also home to some lovely towns and villages that are well worth a visit. Why not take the time to wander the high streets of places such as Lyndhurst, Ashhurst, Brockenhurst and Fordingbridge, visit the local shops and stop off for some tea and cake in a cute looking cafe?

5 – Eat locally sourced food at the region’s best restaurants

The New Forest is also known for some high quality eateries and is renowned for using locally sourced food. There are some wonderful choices available to you but from my experience two delicious options are Hotel Terravia in Woodlands and The Silver Hind in Sway.

I’ve also heard great things about The Pig in Brockenhurst, but not yet had the chance to dine there. This is because we discovered that you need to book ahead – really book ahead. On our final day we thought we’d try our luck and drove up the gravel path to The Pig only to discover they were fully booked for the next five weekends! I think that has to be one hell of a recommendation, no?

Take home tankards at Ringwood Brewery.
Take home tankards at Ringwood Brewery.
Keri attempts to pull a pint!
I attempt to pull a pint!

6 – Tour Ringwood Brewery

Just on the edge of the New Forest lies Ringwood, where you can find TripAdvisor’s no 1 recommendation for attractions in the region. Ringwood Brewery offers regular group tours of its plant, and although I’m not a beer drinker I have to say I had a really great time!

For around £8 your visit starts with a drink in the quaint country bar. I loved the glasses, which I was very excited to discover you can keep! ­While everyone enjoyed their drink (basically I snuck Justin mine after I’d had one sip!) we were told the history of Ringwood Brewery and how its creator started the concept of the microbrewery. From here we began our tour, where we were shown how each type of beer was made. The visit ends with a return to the open bar, where you’re invited to try out all the beers, and have as much as you want, before checking out the cool little shop before heading off on your way home.

As you can imagine, there was a very jolly atmosphere, and everyone on the tour had a good laugh getting to know each other – there was one group of lads that loved the tour so much it was their seventh visit!

7 – Visit Eling Tide Mill

The only fully working tide mill in the UK, Eling Tide Mill is something pretty unique. With a small team keeping it running, we had the place to ourselves during our visit, and got to speak to a young miller in training, who talked us through the mill’s history and its importance. He also gave me some great recipes to make using the flour they sell!

As it was quiet we were even allowed to help out by bagging up our very own bag of flour to buy, and it was great exploring all the levels of the mill and from the water’s edge up to the rafters all by ourselves.

Currently the mill is shut for renovation, but I can imagine it will offer an even better experience when it does reopen, so be sure to keep your eyes open for announcements.

Eling Tide Mill
Eling Tide Mill.

You can find out more about visiting the New Forest  www.thenewforest.co.uk

7 great things to do in the new forest.

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

6 Comments

  • Rachel

    Great post! The New Forest looks so lovely, I’d love to get our truck down there for a little explore. I have been, for a very quick day trip to the motor museum many years ago (to see some James Bond cars!) but we didn’t even stay the night. It must have been 2001 or something like that!
    The Brewery tour sounds particularly fun!

    • Keri

      Oh you should totally go back, there’s so much to do and see. Its one of those places in the UK that I find I really unwind, it’s so beautiful! x

  • Shikha (whywasteannualleave)

    Ooooh thank you Keri – you’ve saved me hours of research by rounding up this post ahead of my visiting for the first time in May. I was actually looking at accommodation in Beaulieu so I’m pleased to hear there’s so much else to do there as well. You covered a lot during your visit!

    • Keri

      We did squeeze in a lot during our recent visits I have to say Shikha! I hope you love the area as much as I do though, let me know what you think once you’ve stayed there – and hope you have a wonderful time! K x

  • Anna Katrina

    I haven’t been to New Forest since I was a child and I remember I loved it but don’t really remember much about it. This is a little trip back to my childhood and a reminder that I need to go back and take my husband when I go back. Lovely post!

    • Keri

      Aww lovely to hear that Anna, I hope you guys make it back there! I first went as a child too and have fond memories. As a kid I was obsessed with butterflies and I remember my mum taking me all over the UK to visit butterfly farms including the one here! 🙂

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